Traditionally, kitchens have played a prominent role in Israeli politics. This is due to the fact that while serving as Prime Minister, Golda Meir would often hold meetings with a select group of ministers in her kitchen. This exclusive forum was quickly dubbed the “kitchenette”. Throughout the years, Israeli Prime Ministers have used the “kitchenette” as a forum to debate a wide range of issues crucial to Israel’s security, be it in the realm of foreign policy or national defense.
Despite its prestige and importance, Israel’s foreign policy kitchen has never before been in such disarray as it is currently over crowded with Chefs, Sous-chefs and chefs de cabinet. Following the 2013 elections, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs found itself without a permanent minister as this position was being held for Avigdor Lieberman who was awaiting a verdict in his trial. In his absence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began stripping the Ministry of responsibilities and influence. Control over the negotiations with the Palestinians was given to Justice Minister Tzipi Livney; the responsibility for the strategic dialogue with the US was bestowed upon the Minister of Communications Gilad Erdan and Yuval Steinitz was named Minister of Strategy, Intelligence and International Relations Matters, not to mention Lord of the Flies.
But the current mayhem in the foreign policy kitchenette may be coming to an abrupt end following Avigdor Lieberman’s triumphant return to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week. It is fair to assume that like “Hell’s Kitchen” Gordon Ramsay, Lieberman will act swiftly, decisively and bluntly to regain control of the kitchen and solidify his role as the foreign policy Master Chef.
At times, it’s hard to understand why Lieberman is so infatuated with the role of Foreign Minister. His husky physique and macho façade indicate that this is a man of action who finds no interest in the endless phrasing sessions of diplomacy. As opposed to the gifted diplomat Winston Churchill who said that “Diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to hell in a manner that he actually looks forward to the trip”, Lieberman is a straight shooter who believes in telling everyone to go to hell. This past August he suggested that in response to a European boycott of goods manufactured in Israeli settlements, Israel “should diplomatically tell the Europeans: cut the crap”.
It is possible that Lieberman views the role of Foreign Minister as a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal, the Premiership. Given the fact that he already has the reputation of the region’s outlaw, Evet the Kid, Mr. Lieberman may feel that what his public image lacks is statesmanship, those precious pictures of him shaking hands with world leaders and holding up cardboard cut-outs at the UN General Assembly.
There are those who believe that Lieberman’s return to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will best serve Israel’s interests as its foreign policy will be formulated and executed by one minister and one ministry. Moreover, there are those who feel that the reinstated minister is a pragmatist, someone who understands the need for a final resolution to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
These “Beliebers”, who like Justin Bieber’s diehard fans will forgive and even take a liking to Lieberman’s diplomatic indiscretions and vandalism, forget that the Minister is perceived as a persona non grata throughout the world. Arab leaders, as well as European and American ones refuse to meet him and view him as a potential arsonist, someone willing to set the region ablaze with inflammatory rhetoric and actions. The “Beliebers” also seem to overlook the fact that in his effort to emerge as the rightwing’s next leader, Lieberman has no intention of taking a left turn.
And maybe I’m a bit of a Belieber myself, as I believe that Lieberman’s return to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has one benefit: it reveals the true nature of the current Netanyahu government.
Since its establishment, Netanyahu has attempted to market his new government as a moderate one to both local and international audiences. Moderate in its acceptance of a two state solution and moderate in its desire to carry out economic reforms promised by the PM at the height of the social justice protests. Yet with Evet serving as this government’s public face, it is evident that this is not a moderate government. It is, perhaps, the most rightwing and conservative government in recent history; rightwing in its denial of the Israeli occupation, rightwing in its conservative economic policies and rightwing in its desire to expand Israeli settlements. A government that refuses to see the dangers that lay ahead and like Justin Bieber is “Stuck in the Moment”.